By John Salak –
Thanksgiving and turkey are pretty much synonymous. Think Beyonce and Jay-Z, baseball and hot dogs, Christmas and Santa and gin and tonic. Just how many birds go to turkey heaven on Thanksgiving? More than 46 million, which in turn will serve 86 percent of Americans that day.
Vegan and other alternatives aside, the biggest question facing Thanksgiving chefs is exactly what type of turkey they should put in their oven in terms of nutrition and taste. It basically comes down to your traditional big brand turkey (think Butterball) or the increasingly popular organic alternatives.
Just to be clear, organic turkeys, which have USDA Organic label, are a lot more expensive than a traditional farm-raised birds. A Butterball turkey sells for less than 90 cents a pound. Organic turkeys can go four, five up to 10 times higher in price depending on the brand.
This extra cost begs two big questions. What do organic turkeys offer compared to their traditional counterparts and is shelling out the extra dough worth it?
Let’s skip the fact that buying organic is trendy. It is. But justifying the rational for paying more just to be chic needs to be examined elsewhere. On the nutritional and wellbeing front, Consumer Reports claims one benefit of organic turkeys is that they are not given antibiotics. Antibiotics in animals is increasingly frowned on because it is believed to be a major cause of the growth in antibiotic resistance in people. Effectively, this resistance undermines the ability of antibiotics to fight infections and their related illnesses.
If this type of problem resonates with particular consumers, Consumer Reports recommends they should be extremely leery of turkey labels with designations of “antibiotic free,” “no antibiotic residues,” and “no growth-promoting antibiotics.” None of these designations are approved by the USDA.
On a pure nutritional scale, some big brand turkeys are fed a diet high in grain and corn, which may not provide the same bang as free-range organic turkey. Patch.com notes that although these big brand turkeys are less expensive, they can be lower in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid that can help fight cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Some traditional turkeys also risk having pesticides build up in their fatty tissues that can then be transmitted to consumers. This potentially increases the risk of developing cancer while also possibly having a negative impact on reproductive, nervous and immune systems. Breastcancer.org, in fact, recommends staying away from any foods exposed to pesticides for this reason.
Despite these concerns, which may be legitimate, it is worth noting that eating a standard, big brand turkey is not necessarily a death-defying feat. Millions of Americans have chowed down on tens of millions of these turkeys for decades and lived quite happily to tell the tale. Many big brand turkey producers even have responded to consumer concerns by developing a subset of their birds that are raised without antibiotics. Theses turkeys, however, are not necessarily raised under strict organic guidelines unless they come with a USDA Organic label.
Taste is another key issue when it comes to turkey. Differences, admittedly, abound depending on how birds are raised. But the issue is ultimately subjective, which means that organic or free-range turkeys may not taste better to a particular consumer than that big Butterball on their counter.
The Food Network thankfully offered its own lowdown on turkey tasting. Basted or self-basting birds, for example, are marinated or injected with a solution that the USDA reports includes butter, spices, broth, flavor enhancers and edible fat. The good news is that process helps make a turkey moist and tasty. The less good news is that the bast undoubtedly masks a turkey’s natural taste. Of course, not everyone prefers the natural taste over pre-seasoned turkeys.
Free range turkeys reportedly have their own unique taste because they get to roam around and this builds additional muscle, making the meat “fully flavored and complex,” according to The Food Network. Kosher turkeys, in turn, can have a different taste altogether thanks to the birds being salted and left to drain before washing. The process leaves the turkey’s meat denser and more fully flavored.
Organic turkeys could be called the purest birds on the market. Similar to free range in terms of movement, they also are free of antibiotics and feeds impacted by fertilizers and pesticides. This makes them “potentially the finest and fullest flavored” birds available, The Food Network reports.
Does this mean, price and nutritional considerations aside, they are everyone’s favorite? Not necessarily. Turkey preferences, like wine, scotch and ice cream, are an extremely personal matter.